I believe we are born with blank slates. It is our unique experiences that mold our personalities and our future. Positive experiences promote growth and security, while trauma can help cover up our true selves. Our personality can eventually be hidden by repeated traumas or even one single trauma.
I realized what trauma could do to a person after coming home from each one of my three deployments. I didn’t notice any problems such as my creeping depression or horrible anxiety while I was in the Army, because it just seemed normal under the circumstances. One day, three years after my first deployment, I remember waking up and asking myself: Who am I? What have I become? How was I not aware of this massive transformation?
These questions sent me into a serious funk. Was it possible to get out of this mess or was I doomed? I was lucky enough to learn about the power that psychedelics have in treating trauma. I remember thinking: if a few traumatic events can turn my life upside-down, a number of profound events may be able to put me back in control.
Once I got out of the Army, I remember not being occupied by the mundane. I went from working 60 hours a week to not having a job or any prospect of having one. This provided me the time to reflect, which in fact was the hardest challenge in my life. I would say that the 6 months of reflection, more than the previous 24 years of my life, were the most enlightening but troubling times yet.
I started to look in the mirror and ask: Am I a good person? The answer was different then than it is now. Now I can see that I was always a good person but was placed in an extraordinary situation and coped poorly. Stress changes people. It caused me undervalue my marriage, my life, and family, while overvaluing alcohol and cynicism. After months of this kind of behavior, I felt that it was time to make a change. I saw how MAPS was treating PTSD with MDMA and having great success. I decided that using these entheogens may be beneficial for me and decided to give it a shot — a decision that would change my life in a profound way.
About a month after making this decision, I acquired a single Psilocybe cubensis mushroom at a music festival, which probably weighed a gram and a half. I asked my best friend (also a veteran) if he wanted to sit with me while I went through the experience. When he agreed, we decided to do it in his yard while sitting in a creek on a hot July day.
This event has turned out to be one of the most significant, personal, and transformative events of my life. It trumped the firefights, the arguments, the let downs, the chronic stress. I remember feeling as though I was previously blind and seeing for the first time. The beauty of life around me nearly brought me to tears. I was so reflective on my life but could only see the good. I had to struggle to think of anything unpleasant. Until that point I had never felt so lucky and blessed to be alive.
I saw my erratic and callous behavior with compassion and sympathy rather than resentment. I saw that I was running towards a cliff face and wanted to do a 180-degree turn. I saw what I had, and not what I lost. I remember thinking my innocence is not gone but only buried, and at that moment I decided that I wanted to dig it back up. After the initial intensity of the experience ceased, things got very quiet. I remember sitting in the creek facing down stream looking at the way the water navigated through the woods, humbled and in silence for what felt like hours. I was experiencing deep contemplation with compassion rather than anger.
I can’t say that all my progress has come from my few psychedelic experiences; but they certainly gave me a roadmap where as previously I was navigating blindly. I could say that the few hours spent under the influence of these entheogens equate to months of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy has its utility but for some people I don’t think it’s enough. Some people need that extra kick.
When trauma has repeatedly strengthened our defense mechanisms, which prevent strong emotions, talking to a therapist for 1 hour a week may be more of a nuisance than anything else. Another thing is these substances should be used as tools, not mere recreation. I wasn’t healed from the psilocybin itself but from the experiences that this mushroom has provided me. The same experience could have been frivolous and meaningless but intentions are important. I wanted to heal, I wanted to take something away from the experience, and I wanted to move forward in a positive direction. Psilocybin allowed me to trust myself and shed the emotional barriers that combat and PTSD worked so hard to build.